#IWSG ‘Weird Research’ ‘The Sin Eater’ #amwriting #Histfic

It’s the first Wednesday of the month when we, Insecure Writers, share our insecurities with each other and the blogosphere in the Insecure Writers Support Group monthly blog hop. Join in here and tell us all about yours.

There’s an optional question every month, this May it’s: 

What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?

My work in progress is a contemporary thriller, but so far I’ve written historical fiction set in Victorian England, and although I already knew a great deal before I started, I’ve had to do a lot of extra and specific research, which I greatly enjoyed.

I’ve researched clothes and accessories, recipes for food, household management, furniture and household ornaments, cookery books, working conditions, poor houses, funerals, novels of the period, theatres and plays performed, opium addiction, most frequent illnesses, sea voyages and everything to do with ships sailing to America from the UK, and plenty more details to make the readers feel they were immersed in the 19th century.

If I have to choose one aspect as the weirdest, I’d have to choose the Sin eater, a sinister character in my novels, who is based on real people who carried out this disgusting chore, in order to have a morsel to eat, or occasionally because they had a macabre interest in being close to death and dead people.

Sin eaters existed in England up to the end of the 19th century. They would be summoned to a deceased person’s bedside to perform a ritual usually including eating food from a plate on the dead person’s body, symbolising the eating of their sins, so the dead could pass on to the next world in a sinless state, while the sin eater absorbed their sins.

Many sin-eaters were beggars, and the custom was carried out in different parts of the British Isles, including Yorkshire and Wales, until mid-19th century. The last Sin-eater reportedly died in Shropshire, in 1906.

The Eyre Hall Trilogy is not a horror story, but there gothic elements and some sinister characters and events in the novels, which are set in Victorian England. 

I originally introduced th Sin eater in my first novel as a gothic element of mystery surrounding a funeral. My Sin eater was more evil than eccentric, and as there were several funerals of nasty and sinful characters throughout the trilogy, I realised his presence would be required more than once.

As the trilogy progressed, the Sin eater became a recurring and even essential part of the main plot of the novel, as his character grew from an eccentric or macabre person to an evil and sinister one, more akin to the devil’s servant, or even the Devil himself.

Many of my readers are surprised and even shocked by his presence, which adds a paranormal and sinister element. Mr. Isaac Das Junot, originally from the Netherlands, claims to be a descendent of Judas Iscariot, and member of an evil clan who search funerals of the evil to absorb their sins and grow even stronger in their wickedness. 

However, Junot cannot influence or make use of good people. He has no use for goodness. He is only attracted to evil, which is why Jane Eyre is not afraid of him, although she is aware that he is evil and respects his powers of evil.  

Here is part of a scene in which he has a conversation with Jane Eyre, who is now Mrs. Mason, in Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall. This is their second meeting and the second time he appears in the trilogy. Junot narrates this chapter.

****

“Why do you not fear me, Mrs. Mason?”

She stopped outside Mr. Mason’s door to answer my question. “Because I know that good and evil are two sides of the same coin, just as happiness and sadness, and beauty and ugliness are all part of our nature. There is no good without evil. Each of us has both. All our lives the fight goes on between them, and one of them must conquer. You chose evil, so you make the rest of us your opposite: good. Why should I fear you?”

“You are unwise not to fear me,” I said as we walked into the same room I had entered the last time. The corpse was laid out, dressed, and blackened. The smell was the most nauseating I had ever encountered. Was he already decomposing? Had his soul escaped before my arrival?

“When did his body perish?”

“Five days ago.”

“Close your eyes and turn away. He has been expelled from the flesh, which has already been taken over by the corpse eaters, but he is not far, yet. I hope I am still on time, for my sake and yours, Mrs. Mason.”

She turned to face the door. “Do what you have to do quickly.”

I proceeded with my incantation. He was indeed still there, naked and petrified, unable to return, and yet unwilling to leave, so I stole his sins and left his carcass to wither.

****

Have you ever heard of Sin eaters?

Which is yor wierdest character?

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